Ripple Effects: How Mets' Justin Verlander deal impacts payroll and roster construction going forward

Steve Cohen and Billy Eppler
Steve Cohen and Billy Eppler / USA TODAY Sports/SNY Treated Image

The Mets' signing of Justin Verlander on Monday was enormous for a bunch of reasons.

Among them?

- Verlander will replace Jacob deGrom as the Mets' second ace to go along with Max Scherzer.

- The move to sign Verlander was quick and aggressive, and the latest sign that Steve Cohen and the Mets' front office are not messing around.

- By acting fast on Verlander, right as the Winter Meetings were starting, the Mets freed themselves up to focus on the rest of their many offseason needs without having to worry about the top of their rotation.

However, while the above reasons are (and should) be at the forefront of the discussion around Verlander and the Mets, there is one other reason why the signing was so big -- and so smart. And here it is...

By getting Verlander to Queens while only having to guarantee two years, the Mets have set themselves up very well to maneuver through the rest of this offseason while making additional moves and have also kept their future payroll situation in really strong shape.

I'm going to preface this next section with the fact that deGrom is the best pitcher on the planet, and while his deal with the Rangers (five years with an option that could make it six) has a chance to blow up in Texas' face, it also has a chance to be a steal if he stays healthy.

But for the Mets, who are attempting to build a sustainable winner by eventually relying mostly on prospects they develop and are currently throwing lots of money around as they wait for their farm system to start producing key players (which will be soon), having Verlander on the books instead of deGrom is probably better for what they're trying to accomplish.

Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander / USA TODAY Sports/SNY Treated Image

In the hours before the Verlander news was broken by SNY's Andy Martino, I tweeted that when it came to the possibility of guaranteeing Verlander a third year, it should be noted that the Mets currently had only a shade over $90 million committed to their payroll for 2025, per Cot's Baseball Contracts.

I added that some of the 2025 (and beyond) payroll would hopefully be filled with other free agent signings/trades this offseason and perhaps a Pete Alonso extension, but that there was plenty of room.

It should also be noted that if Scherzer opts out after the 2023 season and the Mets don't retain him, they will have an additional $43.3 million off the books for 2024. They could possibly use that to pursue Shohei Ohtani -- if he actually hits free agency.

As far as Verlander, if his third-year option vests -- and he needs to pitch 140 innings in 2024 for it to do so -- the Mets will have roughly $135 million committed to the payroll in 2025. But...

1. It will likely mean that Verlander is still a very effective pitcher.

And

2. They will still have plenty of maneuverability in 2025, and especially in 2026 and 2027, when deGrom's dollars (at $37 million annually) would've still been on the books.

As things currently stand, the Mets have a shade over $74 million committed to the payroll in 2026 and 2027, per Cot's. That $74 million is the money owed to Francisco Lindor and Edwin Diaz, and the money factored in for player benefits and other expenses.

So, what does this all mean for this offseason and beyond?

For this offseason, locking in Verlander for two guaranteed years (and possibly three) instead of deGrom for five guaranteed years (and possibly six) could increase the chances that the Mets re-sign Brandon Nimmo, who could receive a deal for five years at $20 million or more annually.

Having a lot less money committed to the payroll in 2026 and 2027 could also make it easier for the Mets to explore extensions for Alonso and Jeff McNeil, who are both set to hit free agency after the 2024 season.

Oct 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso (20) reacts after hitting a solo home run against the San Diego Padres in the fifth inning during game two of the Wild Card series for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso (20) reacts after hitting a solo home run against the San Diego Padres in the fifth inning during game two of the Wild Card series for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports / © Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets should also have additional wiggle room -- with some of that depending on what they do the remainder of this offseason -- to again play at the top of the free agent market next offseason should they so desire.

It's at this point that I'll do something I've done in many past articles, and that's to remind fans that while Cohen can outspend any owner in the sport and have a payroll of $400 million or more if he so chooses, that it's just not going to happen -- nor should it.

Sustainable winners are not built by spending in runaway fashion every year. Yes, Cohen can pay the penalties that come with exceeding the highest luxury tax threshold. But at some point, those penalties become incredibly harsh.

So, expect the Mets to continue to have one of the highest payrolls in baseball most seasons. But don't expect them to go insane. Perhaps their payroll for 2023 comes in around $320 million or so, which is plenty high.

Going forward, what will help the Mets immeasurably -- along with the relatively low amount of money they have committed to the payroll in 2025, 2026, and 2027 -- is the expected influx of cost-effective impact prospects that started in 2022 and should continue in 2023.

That should include catcher Francisco Alvarez, third baseman Brett Baty, DH/third baseman Mark Vientos, and perhaps infielder Ronny Mauricio this season.

By 2024, catcher Kevin Parada and right-handed pitchers Blade Tidwell, Dominic Hamel, and Mike Vasil could be on the scene.

In 2025, the prospects making their debut could include right-handed pitchers Calvin Ziegler and Matt Allan, and outfielder Alex Ramirez.

The Mets are getting closer and closer to Cohen's vision of building a sustainable winner that relies on its farm system and only dabbles in the superstar market when needed. And the signing of Verlander -- instead of deGrom -- was another step in that direction.